“Hi guys thank you for the awesome articles! I would like to hear your view on whether it is ok for Christians to read books with magic in it, such as fantasy Si-fi [sic]. My husband is not a Christian and he is reading Patrick Rothfuss’s books. In the story, there is a made up religion. He seems to enjoy it, but I am not sure if we as Christians can be comfortable with that.” – J.B.
First of all, thanks for the question! This is a highly relevant topic and something that Christians ought to be thoughtful about, especially as seeped as we are into entertainment and pop culture.
The answer really can be divided into two answers, which are related but distinct. The first question is whether Christians ought to be partaking in entertainment which has to do with magic, since witchcraft is condemned in Scripture. The second is whether a Christian can or should condone fiction in which there is a made-up religion. I’ll consider the former question first.
It is absolutely true that magic in the sense of witchcraft is condemned in scripture, and in fact, is condemned in both testaments under both covenants. God told the Israelites “You shall not suffer a sorceress to live” (Exodus 22:18). Christians who’d been involved in magic in the New Testament burned their books of magic (Acts 19:19). God makes it quite clear that he does not approve of magic. Case closed, right?
Well, not so fast. If we were to look at Scripture’s condemnation and apply that to magic in contemporary fiction we’d be committing the fallacy of equivocation. What I mean by this is that while it’s true that God condemns magic, the magic that he condemns and the magic that we see in fiction are frequently the same word for two very different things. Whereas magic in the Bible refers to people pulling power from demonic spirits, idols, or the spirits of the dead for power, magic in fiction frequently means people that have supernatural abilities to do cool stuff.
Why does this distinction matter? Because by that definition, Moses, many prophets, the apostles, and even Jesus qualify as being “magicians.” That is, they have supernatural abilities to do cool stuff. The thing that makes this remarkably different from the aforementioned brand of magic, however, is the source of the abilities. Those that partake in the former type of magic are drawing power from false gods, demonic forces, or the dead, whether in reality or as a sort of con artist, and therefore are guilty of being lying fiends at best and agents of evil at worst. The prophets and apostles, of course, draw their abilities from God, which makes it pure, as they are agents of good and not of evil.
So then, a categorical dismissal of magic as it relates to fiction is inappropriate. The important thing to look at is the source of the magic, and whether it presents one as an agent of good forces or of evil forces. A series such as Harry Potter presents magic in a fashion that while not necessarily theistic in nature, certainly avoids entirely the demonic and idolatrous aspects. Some urban fantasy such as The Vampire Diaries, however, features characters that are witches directly in line with false idols and Wicca. The former of these presents no conflict with the Christian worldview. The latter, however, does. Each fiction series must be evaluated in light of its own value system and worldview.
Now to the second question: should all made-up religions be dismissed categorically? The answer, I think, is quite similar to the answer to the former question, though slightly different elements are in play. The fallacy of equivocation is not at play here so far as I can tell, but many have wrongly equated a fictional religion with a false religion.
What do I mean by this? Put simply, a fiction writer’s intent is rarely to portray things exactly as they are in reality, save perhaps for genres such as historical fiction. Rather, a fiction writer’s intent is generally to present things about reality through fantastical and “other worldly” pictures. So when a sci-fi or fantasy writer is writing about a monotheistic religion in a world or planet outside of our own, he is likely presenting a value judgment on other monotheistic religions (perhaps even the Judeo-Christian God specifically) through that picture. It is just in “another religion” because of the nature of the genre itself.
Take, for instance, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. There is clearly a religion surrounding Aslan, but one does not take that to mean that Aslan is a false god taking the place of Christ. Rather, we recognize that Aslan is Christ, as seen through the powerful metaphor of him as this lion Aslan, Aslan’s sacrifice for the sake of the traitor Edmund, and the subsequent resurrection and victorious battle – and that’s only to speak of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and not the subsequent books in the series. It’s true that C.S. Lewis is a Christian writer, and secular writers will not have so reverent an image in mind much of the time. But the same principle is there, that we should look at what the fictional religion is saying about Christianity, rather than dismissing it as another religion altogether.
In both of these issues there is a matter of judgment to be made. At times these are somewhat gray areas. But the role of the Christian in such cases ought to be to evaluate the message and worldview of each of these fictional stories through the “clear lens” of Christianity, and to acknowledge that fictional retellings of true principles and concepts about reality can not only slander God, but it can be a medium for His glorification as well.